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SG's Corner: Spice
Vice Adm. Adam Robinson, Jr.
U.S. Navy Surgeon General

Surgeon General's Corner: Navy Medicine Focuses on Spice

By Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson, Jr., U.S. Navy Surgeon General 

Last year, CNO released a NAVADMIN message on Navy’s zero tolerance policy for drug abuse to include synthetic cannabinoids like Spice and other synthetic designer drugs.  This special MedNews column serves to educate and inform Navy and Marine Corps personnel about the potential adverse health effects of Spice, synthetic marijuana compounds and other synthetic designer drugs.  It is paramount all Navy Medicine personnel are aware of the adverse effects of these drugs.  The following is provided to help providers advise their patients, and what MTFs should communicate to their personnel in order to provide training and counseling, and increase awareness for all hands as to the signs and symptoms of usage and health and legal consequences. 

Commands and Commanding Officers must be fully engaged in synthetic drug abuse prevention, and do everything in their power to increase awareness within their commands of the serious health consequences and legal ramifications if caught using, possessing, manufacturing, promoting, or distributing Spice and other synthetic designer drugs. Spice represents a real and present danger to our Sailors’ and Marines’ mental and physical health, as well as their military careers.                                                                                                                                

Navy’s zero tolerance policy for drug abuse includes possession of substances or designated products that contain synthetic cannabinoid compounds, including Spice, fake marijuana or fake pot, herbal incense or potpourri, salvia divinorum, bath salts, Skunk, Genie, Blaze, Dream, Spike 99, Ex-SES, Spark, Fusion, Dark Knight, Yucatan Fire, and K2, among many others.

Navy and Marine Corps personnel who wrongfully possess, use, promote, manufacture, or distribute designer drugs such as Spice and other synthetics mentioned may be subject to punitive action under UCMJ Article 92, adverse administration action, or both.  Consumption of any of these products to get high meets the criteria for drug abuse as defined by SECNAVINST 5300.28D and OPNAVINST 5350.4D and is prohibited by both instructions.  This March, a DEA ban of several of the synthetic cannabis compounds commonly found in Spice went into effect to prevent an imminent threat to public health and safety.

Spice looks similar to marijuana or oregano and is used for psychoactive and hallucinogenic effect.  The product contains organic leaves coated with chemicals.  It is not FDA approved for human consumption.  Unlike marijuana, the synthetic chemicals in spice-type products are more potent to the brain and other organs because they bind themselves more permanently to receptors.  Spice could have multiple unknown chemicals including harmful metal residues, with unknown potency, potentially 5-200 times more potent than THC in marijuana.  Users are experimenting with combining different products which can dramatically change or increase effects.  Rapid tolerance in some users led to increased dosage and addiction.  According to DEA, increase use of Spice and other synthetics has led to a surge in emergency room visits and calls from poison control centers.

Signs and symptoms onset within 5-10 minutes include relaxation and sedation, marijuana-like effects such as euphoria, giddiness, bloodshot eyes, impaired short-term memory and concentration.  There is also a morning after hangover-like effect.  Other more serious signs and symptoms that may durate for 8-10 hours may internal internal unrest, tremor, panic attacks, rapid heart rate, agitation, insomnia, headache, seizures, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and some have reported paranoid hallucinations, confusion, mood disorders, loss of consciousness, and psychotic symptoms that can last for days and become debilitating. 

Spice and other synthetic drug use such as bath salts, plant food products, and other herbal products is on the rise in our Navy and Marine Corps, are readily available, and falsely marketed as a safe way to get high while avoiding drug test detection.  Manufacturers constantly change product ingredients and market products under new names.  This is a moving target.  In the past year alone, hundreds of Sailors were held accountable for use or possession of Spice or a Spice derivative. These incidents are not restricted to one type of platform, command, or location.  Most offenders are E-5 and below.  Detection through confession of use and reporting of behavior is most common (1st offender caught reports of others use within the command.)

One time is enough for discharge. Commanding Officers do not need a positive urine result to begin administrative separation.  Personnel involved or who know about an abuse and do not report the incident can also be charged.  I am directing that Commands and Commanding Officers take this issue very seriously, release and post a local standing order, and conduct health and barracks inspections as deemed necessary. To deter drug abuse, Commands and Commanding Officers should continually communicate and educate all hands as to the Navy’s zero tolerance policy on Spice and other synthetic designer drugs, beginning with NDOC and reinforced throughout the year.  Accountability for those who abuse these substances will help deter their abuse.  

Thank you for everything you do and thank you for your service.  It is my honor and privilege to represent you as your Surgeon General. 

-USN-